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Panthers never managed to mount a rally

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Ute Eric Weddle sacks Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko during the first half of Saturday's Fiesta Bowl. The Utes sacked Palko nine times.

Ute Eric Weddle sacks Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko during the first half of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl. The Utes sacked Palko nine times.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

TEMPE, Ariz. — Pittsburgh made a name for itself for coming from behind to win games in the second half, but Saturday's 28-point third-quarter deficit to No. 5 Utah in the Fiesta Bowl was too much for the Panthers to overcome.

The No. 19 Panthers (8-4) tallied just 138 yards total offense in the first half, their third-lowest first-half total of the season in digging the early hole, and they could never recover in the 35-7 loss to the Utes.

Although the offensive total was low and they trailed 14-0 at the half, it wasn't time for the Panthers to push the panic button just yet.

Pittsburgh trailed six times at the half and came back to win five of them with strong second halves. The Panthers beat Furman and Notre Dame in OT and beat Boston College, Temple and West Virginia.

In the second half, the Panther offense outscored its opponents 134-94; 82-39 in the fourth quarter alone.

The No. 5 Utes (12-0) scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter and slammed the door on the possibility of a Panther comeback.

Marty Johnson scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass and quarterback Alex Smith hit Steve Savoy, who then pitched it to Paris Warren, who then ran for a 23-yard touchdown.

"Defensively, being behind 14 points was good," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. "For a while we had a chance, but we got our backs broken in the second half."

Although their comebacks have been spectacular, the Panthers never erased a 28-point deficit this season.

The Utes set a new Fiesta Bowl record with nine sacks, while holding the Panthers to just 268 yards total offense — their lowest total in the last six games.

"I think late in the game they were way ahead, we were throwing it and really didn't give our quarterbacks a lot of chances," Harris said. "Obviously, they are good at what they do and they did their thing."

The Panthers, who were held to a season-low seven points, managed just 130 yards total offense in the second half, which was their lowest second-half total in a loss this year.

"They're a very explosive team, and it was a tough game for us because we didn't match up physically the way we needed to in order to stay in it defensively," Harris said.

Pittsburgh, which had won its last three games before Saturday's blowout loss, drove inside the Utah red zone only one time and the Panthers didn't convert.

The Panthers' lone touchdown came on a 31-yard pass from Tyler Palko to Greg Lee late in the third quarter.

Palko credits Utah's offense as a reason for Utah's strong defense.

"When you have an offense like that (the Utes'), you can be a little more aggressive just because of the fact that they have a high-powered offense and if they give up a big play their offense will most likely get it back for them," he said.

Palko threw for 251 yards, but the Utes held the Panthers to just 17 yards rushing, a season-low.

"The score became tough and we got behind and then it was real tough," Harris said. "We were throwing it most every down and that's not the way to go. But that was our situation and we had to try to do the best we could."

E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com